I'm working on a difficult piece of writing that I want to share with you, but it may be some time before I can. Once when I was having a tough time with a piece of writing in graduate school, one of my professors told me, "Put the problem into the poem." She suggested that I write about what exactly wasn't working in order to find my way into the heart of the piece.
To do this feels a bit like trying to untie a particularly nasty knot with your eyes blindfolded. At first, it seems an impossible task, but as you gradually begin to trust your fingertips, you feel the contours of the thread, and what you learn as you tease out the loops and twists is that the center of the tangle disappears at the very moment it reveals itself to you. Where there was once a knot there is now a long line running through empty space, which feels like possibility, a string to follow back out of the maze, a thread to weave, a rope on which to walk across a treacherous river. It's not a guarantee of safety or comfort, but a guide through the hardest parts of the journey.
I find that I can't untie the knot without trusting myself first. Tonight, I don't feel it. Putting the problem in the piece takes an act of faith. For a long time my acts of faith have failed. I know that is the point. I know that means I must have more faith--in myself, in others, in my work. I read that quote from Emerson and I feel it burn like a condemnation. What if what lies within me is not the long thread of possibility but the empty space through which it travels? What if I truly am the nothing I feel?
I went to a lecture once that the late scholar Edward Said gave on hope. Maybe I have mentioned it before. It stitched itself into my life more than a decade ago, and now I can't imagine myself without it. What he said boils down to (and sometimes I hear it like he whispered it into my ear alone): to create is to hope. To face the bleakest moment and still put pen to paper or brush to canvas is to hope. It can be a chicken and egg problem, which is where the faith part comes in.
A few weeks ago I wrote about loving even when we feel least like loving, and I think this post tonight is a mere extension of what I was talking about. In fact, both posts are just me taking the advice of my wise professor. I've chucked the problem right into all of my writing for a few weeks now, and I'm still messing around with the mere surface of a knot the size of those fabled giant balls of string (or tinfoil ) that enterprising and obsessive hermits have managed to turn into tourist attractions out on dusty desert roads. I can imagine the crumbling billboard:
TO THE LOST GIRL'S
MYSTERIOUS AND AMAZING
OF DOUBT AND FEAR
And yet I'm still writing. It can't be all bad. And for you, because you have been kind enough to visit my little roadside attraction--complete with a souvenir shop peddling snow globes, snake skins, and miniature replica knots on keychains--for you I have the gift of a song from the Josh Ritter show we saw this past weekend here in Portland, just a few blocks from my house. Yes, I know it's pitch black for much of the song, but that's because he sang it in the dark, which is almost as good as a blindfold, and I promise there's a glimmer of light at the end.